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Monday, April 18, 2011

Album Review: Duff McKagan's Loaded - The Taking

Duff McKagan's Loaded - The Taking
2011 Eagle Rock Entertainment/Armoury Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

The merry-go-round of Guns n' Roses and its displaced connectors continues ad infinitum. This is a band the world just won't let go of, despite its principals being unable to patch the ruts to put out what might be, at this point, the rock record this sales-slumped industry needs. Axl Rose was able to pass off Chinese Democracy with an appreciable amount of fanfare, while the in-transition Velvet Revolver represents one of few mega-rock bands left to the American music scene. We wait in anticipation of an announcement to Scott Weiland's Velvet successor while Weiland himself is parading around once again with his Stone Temple posse on the summer circuit.

As Velvet Revolver attempts to solve its own frontman puzzle, both Slash and Duff McKagan have been lending their talents elsewhere, be it in collaboration with Macy Gray (also bringing along Velvet drummer Matt Sorum) or in Slash's case, The Black Eyed Peas at this year's Super Bowl. Slash recently issued his self-titled me 'n my pals solo album last year, while McKagan did a stint for fun with Jane's Addiction and he's now back on the prowl. This includes a reboot of his side band, Loaded, which last released the album Sick a couple years ago.

And around a-around a-round we go...

Duff McKagan's Loaded returns this year with reknowned producer Terry Date on the console to whip up their second album, The Taking. In case you're unfamiliar with Loaded's structure, McKagan dumps bass for guitar and fields the vocals. Jeff Rouse from Alien Crime Syndicate takes up the bass in Loaded, while Nevada Bachelors' Mike Squires occupies lead guitar. For The Taking, new drummer Isaac Carpenter (Loudermilk) joins the Loaded squad.

McKagan has described The Taking as something of a loose concept album based on a man's capability to rise from his personal ashes. Not so much a confessional album, The Taking certainly takes its stride from experience, i.e. "Follow Me to Hell," "Cocaine," "Wrecking Ball" and "Lords of Abbadon." Without overtly preaching, The Taking at times rings of street spirituality and human redemption.

While The Taking risks a few off-the-cuff measures such as a blatant Foo Fighters hail on the otherwise uplifting "We Win," it rocks when it's supposed to and tries its hand at establishing empathy between band and listener. "Lords of Abbadon" engages its audience with a rolling set of chunky riffs and a wailing top layer of guitars. You can hear both Velvet Revolver and GNR in "Lords of Abbadon" even with a more gravelly voice that McKagan brings forward.

McKagan switches to alto on "Executioner's Song," while the band digs in with a slow and heavy grinding rhythm setting up a loud 'n proud solo section and a shifty bridge leading into the final verse. "Dead Skin" picks up the tempo and the quick-picking verses indicate Duff McKagan is writing with Guns in mind until he switches the scheme to a more contemporary pop rock slide on the bridges and choruses.

McKagan wallows all over "Easier Lying," which carries a hint of The Beatles on its shambling, murky groove. The song holds its focus upon the stasis of Jeff Rouse's slinking bass, and maintains its melancholic choke which nearly derails until Mike Squires decorates the track in the later segments.

The rest of The Taking is a variance of moods and vibes ranging from angry to frolicky. "Cocaine" an example of the former, the up-tempo shake of "Indian Summer" the latter. Vocally, Duff McKagan shows on "Indian Summer" why he frequently backed Axl on Guns n' Roses' most memorable work. "Wrecking Ball" is performed with an intentional sense of inebriation to convey the haplessness of its drunken muse. McKagan slucks and glubs the initial verses before letting a power groove usurp the track, showing his muse has emerged clean.

The Taking requires patience at times and probably a few spins is recommended in order to properly unearth what Duff McKagan is trying to expel to his listeners. "King of the World" is an attention-grabber with its pounding beat and declarative rawk projection, while "Easier Lying" and "Wrecking Ball" need a chance to roll around in the ears because of their awkwardness in greeting.

"We Win" would be a tremendous success for Loaded if the Foos hadn't recorded "The Best of You" first. Then again, Dave Grohl has borrowed from the Guns manual at times, so fair's fair, right? That, or one can look at McKagan's rip on "We Win" as a tribute to Grohl's massive standing in the rock industry. Either case, it's annoying despite its positive nature. Fortunately, most of The Taking is enjoyable and it further cements the legacy of Duff McKagan as an individual artist, much less an important cog to two of the best rock bands the scene has ever embraced.

Rating: ***1/2

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